As the 2014 MLS season approaches, it’s apparent that this won’t be the year we hear good strong updates of our favorite sport on "America's favorite radio station." In spite of (or perhaps because of) our efforts, FC Dallas seems to be no closer to generating regular soccer talk on Sportsradio 1310am/96.7fm The Ticket than it was in 2010 when they played in the MLS Cup final. In fact, it was the Ticket’s sheer neglect of that year’s championship run that inspired this little crusade known as P1s For Soccer Talk.
The best opportunity for soccer talk on the station is the great Bob Sturm: co-host of Bad Radio (noon-3 weekdays), FC Dallas play-by-play man, and passionate Liverpool supporter. He often presents his 50k+ twitter following with soccer Hot Sports Opinions, but rarely broadcasts those HSOs on Ticket airwaves. The reason, he says, is his perception of what P1s want to hear: "You can't manufacture stories or levels of interest," he told me. "Either people care or they don't. If the populace cared more, then it would be covered more. I love [soccer], as I have said. But, I love a lot of things more than what I present on the show. The show is for the audience, not for me. And it is up to us to properly perceive what the audience will enjoy. And given the success of the station and the consistency of its presenters, I think it is fair to say that the station as a whole hits the target frequently."
That is indeed fair to say, but it seems to run counter to what he said on the air recently, which was that hosts don’t consider "what gets the best ratings today" when deciding what topics to cover. I'm admittedly a spare in the next cubicle over, so I suppose it's possible that doing "what the audience will enjoy" isn’t the same as trying to get the best ratings. (Listen to "BaD Radio…doesn’t play nice on Twitter" on the SportsDay talk app for the direct quote.)
Please understand that I don’t expect "all soccer all the time." I doubt anyone thinks we’ll ever hear Bob and Dan burn segments arguing about which formation would best suit FCD’s personnel. And while Corby Davidson is also a fan of the game, we’re pretty sure we won’t hear him analyze who FCD should take in the supplemental draft. What we at P1s for Soccer Talk work toward is for them to know that lots of P1s are soccer fans, and that lots of soccer fans are P1s.
Unfortunately, P1 soccer fans are the Rodney Dangerfield of the Ticket audience. The lack of respect shown to soccer was exemplified when I called in to Fantastic Friday Fan Feedback and Gordo cut me off mid-sentence after I said "as you may know, FC Dallas opens their season next weekend, and--." Instant dialtone. I’ve never understood why soccer hate seems to be ingrained in the culture of many in the media. It almost seems like they do it because they think it’s fashionable and funny to hate on soccer. (For the record, I was just going to ask Junior Miller if he was going to the game.)
What does respect for soccer mean? We all know a full segment on a soccer-related topic is a just hair more likely than Jerry Jones the owner firing Jerry Jones the GM. So basically, respect means that radio personalities will actually consider talking about soccer stories when there are soccer stories to talk about, such as what happened at big FC Dallas games (honestly, just mentioning that an FC Dallas game is coming up this weekend or was played last weekend would be wonderful), big USMNT games, big transfers, the World Cup, etc. Respect could begin with quick hits covering things like the hiring of a new head coach, a halftime catfight between two FCD teammates, the dismissal of those star players in the off-season, pre-season training in freaking Dubai, and other news tidbits. Would brief mentions of those notes cause the station’s old-school sports fans to tune out, turn it down, and keep it off the Ticket? Surely no more so than any of the other random topics the hosts bring up throughout the day. The key point is that people actually tune in, turn it up, and keep it on the Ticket because of the personalities and the way they talk about the various things they talk about.
I asked Sturm if he gets more complaints or attaboys in those rare instances that he does talk soccer.
"I don't know that there is a majority either way," Sturm said. "There are people who are quite happy, and there are people that are frustrated when I do. In an audience this big, there is no shortage of varying views."
Obviously, I always jump at the chance to give the attaboys when they talk soccer, but hearing from me, with my agenda, doesn’t always have the desired effect.
"Hosts are aware that you exist and your aspirations," explained Strum. "With some, that makes them happy to hear from you, and other hosts might feel they are being told what to do by you and thus more prone to ignore you. Just being honest, but many of the professionals up here will feel their intelligence is being insulted when someone on the outside wants to ‘help’ with how they do their jobs, thus, making soccer less likely to be part of their diet of sports."
My own "help" notwithstanding, when it comes to soccer talk on the radio, Sturm says the sport has come a long way in the past 10 years or so, but the anus--the anus?!--is on the league to ignite a level of interest that leads to soccer talk on the radio. "It has a ways to go," Sturm said. "Hockey has won a major championship here and that gathered thousands of life long loyalists. I don't think soccer has ever approached that in Dallas. Again, I will place the emphasis on the league and the franchise making the needle move."
Short of FC Dallas dominating the league and winning the MLS Cup a few times, I would argue that MLS and FC Dallas still offer plenty to talk about, if hosts would just give it a chance. MLS is the 3rd highest attended pro league in the country -- more than NBA and NHL (thank you, Seattle, Portland, and LA). While FC Dallas is in the middle of the pack attendance-wise, it averages more than 15,000 per game, and it has grown steadily over the past 4 years. It's really a testament to the hard work of the FC Dallas front office that the club is doing so well with so little support from the media. Imagine how much further along FC Dallas’ popularity and relevance would be with a little help from Ticket hosts and other media members who actually know and love the game?
Sturm believes they would talk about it if it were more popular, so it’s a classic chicken/egg situation--which begs the question, what about eggs?
With the World Cup this summer, there is hope we'll hear more soccer talk than usual, but Sturm won't make any promises.
"Again, the news will dictate that," said Strum. "Just like the Olympics or another rare event, we will be open to stories, but we will not designate that we will discuss Chile vs Serbia no matter what. There is just not a demand for that comprehensive a view of matches by the public."
I don't think anyone would expect that, so, ok.
He continues: "Maybe 2014 will be different, but we have had a show for several World Cups and I don't think even USA matches have moved the needle much until 2010... And in 2010, we gave Donovan's goal plenty of love."
So what can we as soccer fans do to improve the situation? First and foremost, go to games. Play your part in making Toyota Stadium the most exciting and fun sports venue in the metromess. Second: Let ‘em hear from you. Take every opportunity to ask the Ticket hosts clever and specific questions about their opinions on FC Dallas, the World Cup, and soccer in general, just like fans of Mavericks and Rangers whip them with regularly. As Bob implied, asking "why don’t y’all ever talk soccer?" actually does more harm than good.
The more the hosts and other media hear from you, the more they’ll realize that their audience is talking soccer, which will slowly but surely move the needle in the direction of sweet, clean soccer talk. And finally, of course, follow P1s for Soccer Talk on Twitter and Facebook, because soccer talk is important to a lot that goes on.